Addicted to Animal Rescue | Torrance Memorial

Published on April 01, 2022

Addicted to Animal Rescue

Animal lover Shaland Leach is the founder of Rescue Bae, a pet adoption agency that has rehomed more than 200 surrendered dogs and 1,000 unwanted cats and kittens.

Shaland Leach

Written by Diane Krieger | Photographed by Mykel Helene Leddel

Some people are hooked on video games. Shaland Leach gets her endorphin rush rescuing animals. By day, she’s the sales manager at Pacific Alloy Casting, her family’s metal casting business. But outside work, this 29-year-old South Bay native devotes nearly every waking hour to Rescue Bae, her one-woman animal adoption agency.

Since 2016, Leach has rehomed more than 200 surrendered dogs and 1,000 unwanted cats and kittens. Wounded waifs and sad-eyed seniors especially pull at her heartstrings.

“I like to take on medical cases,” she says. “I’ve had cats and dogs with leg amputations and eye removals. I really love seniors. They’re the ones everybody looks past, yet they’re so loving.”

Her “barn program” relocates captured feral cats to live in Palos Verdes stables. A six-week, crate-based regimen devised by Leach gives these scrappy street dwellers a new life as working members of the equestrian community, treated humanely and appreciated for their rat-catching skills.

Shaland Leach with her dogsSince Rescue Bae has no physical facility, Leach taps into a network of animal foster families and kindhearted vets who provide temporary shelter and discounted medical services ahead of each adoption. She takes care of chipping, vaccinations, neutering and any other health needs. What the adoption fees don’t cover, Leach unstintingly pays out of pocket.

Her happiest adoption case was Harley, a Great Dane she rescued in 2019. Three days after arriving, the 120-pound giant fell gravely ill with pneumonia. She languished on death’s door for five days at the emergency animal hospital. As expenses mounted, the vets delicately broached the E-word.

“I told them: ‘There’s no way I’m euthanizing a dog because of lack of funds!’” Leach recalls. She started a GoFundMe page to raise the necessary $15,000.

On day seven, Harley turned the corner. Today she lives on a ranch in Texas. “She’s the happiest dog ever,” Leach says, “and I truly saved her life. Knowing that just feels so amazing.”

A Peninsula High graduate studying psychology at USC, Leach turned on to rescue work in her senior year of college after finding a litter of abandoned kittens near her dad’s South Gate business. That night she got on Nextdoor and started matchmaking.

“It was the coolest, most rewarding thing. Since then, I’ve been addicted to rescuing animals,” she says.

Leach started hanging out in animal shelter parking lots, approaching people arriving with boxes of kittens. Once she took in 11 cats in a single day. She’d get on Craigslist, too, looking for unwanted cats and dogs. Leach initially partnered with her sister, Shelby, 27, who also works at Pacific Alloy Casting and lives in Lomita. But in 2020, the sisters wanted to take their rescue work in different directions, and Shelby now runs a separate rescue called Paws of Redemption.

Shaland Leach with her dogsLeach kept one of her first rescue kittens. She named him Ocean. Next came Sandy, Sharky, Fisher and Sushi. In the backyard of her home near Sur La Brea Park, she built a coyote-proof “cat-io” where the five felines can safely enjoy outdoor climbing and sun-basking. They get along well with Leach’s four dogs: Tucker and Stanley, both poodle mixes; Maxine, a terrier mix; and a schnauzer named Floyd. At the moment, Leach is also fostering Felix, a border collie-terrier mix originally from Tijuana.

After putting in a full day at the foundry, Leach comes home to her fur babies and clocks in four or five more hours attending to Rescue Bae matters. On weekends, she scours Nextdoor and drives around Southern California picking up unwanted dogs. She regularly visits shelters on the lookout for animals in dire need.

“I don’t really have much of a social life,” Leach admits, with a chuckle. “All my friends call me Animal Planet.”

With so many whiskered mouths to feed, she rarely leaves town. “I’m pretty much always at home, and that's OK with me. It doesn’t feel like a burden. It’s just second nature.”

Leach hopes someday to devote herself full-time to Rescue Bae. She dreams of running her own boarding facility, complete with a laid-back cat café. She’s filed for 501(c) 3 status so she can start applying for grants.

Her family and friends are mystified but generally supportive. They understand that for Leach, animal rescue isn’t a hobby. It’s a noble addiction.

Patient Pet Visitation Program

Research shows a visit from a therapy dog can reduce patient stress, pain, anxiety and anger, so hospitals across the country have taken canine action. Torrance Memorial’s Pet Visitation Program started in 1999, building on an earlier program for patients in the hospital’s psychiatric unit.

The first eight dogs and handlers were chosen from 40 candidate pairs. Pat Carlson and her briard bearded collie mix, Chloe, were among them.

Carlson is a retired dental tech and former Gail Jewelers salesperson. She spent her entire life around dogs and in 2005 stepped up as the Pet Visitation Program chair. Chloe became her training partner. Together they helped prepare the next generation of volunteers.

“Chloe gave 13 years to the hospital,” says the Malaga Cove resident. Since Chloe passed away in 2013, Quincy, Carlson’s Tibetan terrier, and Kylie, her briard herding dog, have taken up the baton.

Normally the program runs seven days a week, with morning and afternoon sessions distributing dogs across nearly every ward (except the ICU and the burn unit). If requested, visitation dogs would go into private rooms and even lie in patient beds.

During the pandemic, however, safety rules grew strict, and patient rooms became off-limits to animals. So the Pet Visitation Program temporarily shifted focus to promote wellness among the hospital staff, including administrative offices where dogs had never gone before. Stopping at nurses stations and public waiting areas, the pooches bring a few minutes of solace to stressed-out health care providers and their aides.

Patient pet visits were recently reinstated, and staff continue to benefit from their visits to the patient care units. “The nurses and doctors get on the floor with the dogs. They take selfies. It’s the cutest thing,” Carlson says.

Most visitation dogs are golden retrievers, but many other breeds are welcome to audition. The best candidates are former canine companion trainees. “Those are the ones I’m happiest to meet,” says Carlson. “They’re bulletproof.”

The program currently has 15 dogs, but Carlson says she could easily use 10 more. To qualify, candidates are screened for excellent temperament (no aversion to any person or other dog) and must prove they can abide by hospital rules (no licking, strict discipline in cleanliness and toilet behavior, and the ability to stay calm no matter what). Handlers must go through the hospital’s orientation program and demonstrate mastery of their dog as well as essential people skills.

If you think you and your dog have what it takes to volunteer in the Pet Visitation Program, email adultvolunteerprogram@tmmc.com or call 310-517-4752. Participants must commit to at least one hospital visitation session (two to three hours) per month.